There is an increasingly high risk that South Africa will not by 2025 have recovered to its pre-lockdown levels of GDP. In a research report – Vaccines and re-opening: Covid-19 risks to the 2021 recovery – HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world, indicates that South Africa will not recover as quickly as most of the emerging markets.
HSBC places South Africa in a cluster of countries that will not by end 2022 regain their pre-Covid GDP levels. This list also includes France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Mexico and Argentina. According to HSBC’s estimates the rest of the Eurozone will have recovered by end 2022, with Germany reaching that target by the first quarter of 2022.
The centrepiece of the Ramaphosa government’s recovery and economic resuscitation scheme – the loan guarantee fund – is as helpful as giving a desperately hungry infant a dummy, pretending it is food. Not even 5% of formal registered businesses have applied for funding and by end November about 1.8% of these firms have obtained assistance from the scheme.
It is far more affordable to cut Company Income Tax and to raise the VAT threshold to get the economy growing again, than to continue with the current package of the Economic
On the other hand, the government, being out of pocket and not keen on disbursing billions that it would lose if the beneficiaries cannot service the loans, had asked the banks to apply their own existing loan assessment criteria when evaluating the applications. Were it a Khula or a SEFA process, the money would long ago have disappeared. So, despite utterances of concern about the low and slow disbursement process, the president cannot be surprised or concerned that the banks are circumspect.
The government, however, kept its focus on basically two things:
Promoting Covid-19 to the highest pedestal of dangers, wilfully ignoring all other existing problems as well as the additional problems the lockdown strategy would create, and
Pursuing its social engineering efforts to reshape the South African economy in particular, and society at large, by limiting state relief measures to businesses complying with BEE (effectively throttling white sole proprietor businesses to death), deciding which kind of businesses are essential and which not, and pursuing anti-tobacco and prohibition agendas by bans on cigarette and alcohol sales.
Just as a heavy punch on the side of a boxer’s head can disrupt his brain’s neurovascular coupling processes causing him to fall like a log, the lockdown blow had disrupted the intricate flow of funds in the economy. BankServAfrica’s figures for Black Friday confirmed consumers are still on the canvas: turnover declined by a whopping 52% and there was a 30% decline in the number of in-store card transactions.
The pockets of the majority of individuals and a substantial share of businesses now resemble those of the state-owned enterprises.
People are hesitant to spend with unemployment dramatically higher than before lockdown, due to the government turning off the income tap for most enterprises for at least 3 months, declaring them non-essential (in the case of the hospitality sector almost 8 months). The government has thus achieved not only the lengthening of the jobless queues but also driving the rest of the population closer to poverty.
It was a cruel knock-out blow by the government
The religion of the developmental saviour
The subconscious neurovascular coupling process ensures oxygen supply in nano-seconds through blood flow to the brain segments most active at that split second. A boxer can recover from a knock-out if there was no rupture of arteries and quick restoration of normal flow of blood in the brain. If not, there can be permanent brain damage, even death.
Our thought processes depend on continuous uninterrupted subconscious processes. Likewise, an economy depends on the continuous uninterrupted flow of funds that is totally unregulated in the sense that no entity controls or directs the trillions of individual transactions by billions of consumers (both individuals and enterprises) buying their daily requirements and selling their products and services, either worldwide, or at a lower scale in different countries.
The Bleak Friday data indicates the government’s lockdown punch caused chronically reduced demand.
Two recent key government speeches gave rise to two important questions:
Is the inability of the government to effectively implement its policies & plans (?) worse than its inability to table concrete action plans, underpinned by clear strategies, designs, milestones, budgets and target dates?
The president’s tabling of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) was lame and lacked detail, whilst the Minister of Finance’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) left one with a feeling there is not much grasp within the collective government on how to prevent SA from slipping rapidly, if not tumbling, down the slope.
Instead of rekindling confidence and inspiration, vague and mixed messages fuelled doubt and a disbelief that the government can prevent SA from boarding the proverbial bus to Argentina (debt default). I put the following three arguments to illustrate this assessment:
Will the government stand solidly behind Mboweni’s strategy of freezing public sector wages for three years when they cannot deal with the much easier route to stop financing the effectively bankrupt SAA? Recall also how Pravin Gordhan in 2018 (knowing well that Eskom was not only overstaffed, but the personnel besides overpaid) overruled the Eskom Board and management when they had decided on a zero salary increase as part of addressing the Eskom viability issue.
Can one rely (trust would be too much to ask) on the government’s undertaking to reign in public expenditure? This, when they had failed multiple times to table a comprehensive plan on how to deal with Eskom’s debt and the growing debt burdens of other State-owned Enterprises (SOEs).
How is the “growth through infrastructure roll-out” approach different from numerous previous attempts – since the days of Thabo Mbeki – to strengthen the country’s economic fibre by infrastructure investments announcements, with the emphasis on announcements?
Flipchart notes or a detailed plan?
The Enterprise Observatory of SA reckons four fundamental problems underpin the ERRP and the MTBPS:
The perception of numerous commentators and business leaders that South Africans should mobilise behind president Cyril Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan and Tito Mboweni to support the “good guys” in the ANC to ensure an economic recovery, is not only simplistic: it is utterly naive.
It is also not new. It is a rehash of the theme of the 1970s when the
National Party was assessed as comprising good guys (the verligtes) and bad guys
with many commentators arguing the case to support the verligtes. The person
who eventually took the quantum leap with a definite break with apartheid (F W
de Klerk) was not counted amongst the verligtes. He was seen as rather
conservative and a natural choice to chair the Ministerial Council for White
Verlig-verkramp focused primarily on how Nationalist MPs were oriented on apartheid. That analysis had no eyes for another fundamental division: The PW Botha approach with the security structures of the military and national intelligence as key players versus those who preferred a civil-oriented approach with parliament in the fulcrum. De Klerk belonged to the latter faction. Botha and the securocrats had commenced talks and interaction with both Nelson Mandela (then in Pollsmoor) and the ANC in exile, but De Klerk was largely uninformed and excluded from these discussions.
Verlig-verkramp was an insufficient perspective to detect the person who
would make the decisive break with apartheid.
Now, many commentators and business leaders still cling to the hope for action and clear policy direction, contrary to what is happening in reality. The hope that “Ramaphosa knows what is required” is based on viewing the ANC as comprising a “good ANC” and a “bad ANC” and that the good guys will restore the country to a golden growth path. Treasury’s document on economic policy is clung to as a lifebuoy.
The good guys are
supposedly led by Ramaphosa, Mboweni, Pravin Gordhan and Gwede Mantashe, with
the bad guys
represented by Ace Magashule, Faith Muthambi, Supra Mahumapelo and others.
This cowboys-and-crooks-perspective is naïve. It also fails on at least four grounds.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to revitalise the economy reminds one almost of president
Zuma’s commitment to combat corruption: spraying air freshener to divert
attention from a rotting carcass.
The person who promised in his New Dawn manifesto a growth rate of 3% in 2018 through “an unrelenting focus on economic growth” has delivered after 18 months a growth rate of 1.3% in 2018 and negative growth up to date for 2019. Some people would say low growth is still growth, however economic growth below the population growth rate impoverishes the population.
presides over an economy in worse shape than when he assumed power: one